Russia Defends Struggling Missile Program

Article excerpt

Russian leaders remain committed to the Bulava RSM-56 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) despite a number of high-profile test failures, a top military official said Aug. 26.

"We still believe the Bulava will fly," Chief of the Russian General Staff Nikolai Makarov said at a press conference in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, according to RIA Novosti. Makarov responded to criticisms of the program by contending that the failures were the result of "technical problems in production, rather than faulty design." The Bulava program has been a centerpiece of Russia's program to modernize its ballistic missile arsenal.

The most recent test, on July 15, failed when the missile's first stage malfunctioned shortly after launch. The director of the Bulava program, former Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology (MITT) chief Yuri Solomonov, resigned in the aftermath of the test. Solomonov was the principal designer of the Topol-M (SS-27) ICBM. The Topol-M has been cited by Russian leaders such as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the future of Russia's ICBM arsenal and as a means of overcoming U.S. strategic missile defense systems. Solomonov has been replaced as chief of MITT by Sergei Nikulin but was allowed to maintain his post as director of the Bulava program.

The July test represents the sixth failure in 11 flight tests for the Bulava. Prior tests have resulted in similar problems, as malfunctions in the first or third stage of the solid-fuel missile caused it to self-destruct. (See ACT, December 2006.) There has been some speculation in the Russian press that these failures have raised doubts about the future viability of the program. …